The mass movement of early math: Designing for behavior change

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This week, I attended an O’Reilly webinar by Stephen Wendel about his upcoming book, Designing for Behavior Change. O’Relly’s staged publishing process is one of the inspirations for how we do things at Moebius Noodles. The feedback from the webinar will be incorporated into the next draft of the book.


We would like many, many, MANY families to do rich math with their kids. This problem is different from helping people to exercise or to manage personal finances (Stephen’s specialty at Hello Wallet). The difference is that most people already believe that some exercise or some attention to money are beneficial activities. Stephen had a good piece of advice for me. Here’s what he said.

Alright next question. This is nice! Maria asked: “How do we invite people to go where, quote, almost nobody has gone before?” Algebra for three-year-olds in this case, and other early advanced math. There’s almost no knowledge out there. There are a couple of interesting parts here: one part is almost nobody does it, and that’s a statistical fact, sure. But from an individual perspective it’s our local network that matters the most. That’s how we set our reference point: what’s normal. It’s called “descriptive norms”. Describing what’s normal in our environment. And so, hey, if someone is able to take an action, and have the ability, have the desire, you can help set the environment where this is a normal thing to do! Other smart kids like you. Other people who are advanced and have all this experience, and they’re doing it – that’s great. The fact that perhaps the average person, statistically, of the overall US population, doesn’t do it, that really doesn’t matter. What matters is: who do we look to for examples. To find that example is a mentally powerful technique. Descriptive norms; governor Rogers talked about this, in a political space it’s a widely used technique, and something we actually use at Hello Wallet as well.

This validates the main direction we are taking: supporting local Math Circles, math playgroups, learning coops, or simply groups of friends doing math together!

Here is the piece in voice.

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Posted in Grow
One comment on “The mass movement of early math: Designing for behavior change
  1. Another way of saying that is “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I like doing that. It’s fun to surprise people with things that feel normal to me. (From chin hair on a woman to having math parties, to unschooling my son.) But sometimes I wish the community of people around me who get it were bigger.

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